[eDebate] More From Jonah

Kade Olsen kade.olsen
Mon Apr 14 09:41:56 CDT 2008

I'd like to counteract some of the intensely pessimistic directions
that this edebate discussion seems to be taking.  I hope that people
don't come to the conclusion that the backlash against black people in
debate or against changing debate to be more inclusive will be too
strong to overcome.  It is possible to create a community that is more
inclusive if there is committed dialogue, action, investigation, and
risk taking by all of those involved in debate.  I say this because of
some of the inspiring projects undertaken by my parents.  Who are

Hah, just kidding, they're obviously super-white, but wouldn't that
have been a great twist?

But seriously, they have been race relations activists for most of
their lives and have been able to participate in inter-racial
communities in the midst of intense racism.  One of the groups they've
been involved with for the last twelve years is called Project Unity
and started with a series of small group meetings between black and
white individuals living in Chicago.  After six months of dialogue, my
dad had an encounter with a black member of the group, Bob, an
encounter that helped me understand a lot of what Dayvon and Dr.
Warner have described as a very understandable deeply rooted suspicion
of most white people.  Bob talked about how, "deep down inside" he
didn't trust any white people.  After some challenging discussion, Bob
turned to my dad and said "Larry, you're Jewish, how would you feel if
you lived in a neighborhood where everyone else was German? Could you
ever really trust them deep down inside?"  After some reflection my
Dad realized that he couldn't feel trust in such a circumstance, that
there would be a degree of reserve.  But, he and Bob both made the
commitment to dialogue with each other and try to reach a point where
they could trust each other.

You can read about that here:

I do comprehend the point that isolation is a self defense mechanism.
Even though I cannot truly understand this concept because I have
lived as a privileged white member of society, I cognitively and
empathically grasp the idea.  Like my dad, like many Jews, I am still
wary of Germans and I haven't even lived under a repressive German

But I do think that isolation, while understandable, isn't the only
alternative.  Bob and the other African American members of Project
Unity made a conscious decision to make themselves vulnerable to what
they feared would be an inevitable let down by the white people
involved in the group.  But because all parties to the organization
remained committed over time to dialogue and introspection they were
able to overcome some of the barriers to interracial cooperation and
develop genuine, mutually supportive relationships.

I've also seen the possibility of positive white/black cooperation
occur in the interracial choir that my parents formed in Southwest
Michigan.  They live near the communities of Benton Harbor and St.
Joseph.  Benton Harbor is 95% black and St. Joseph is 95% white.
There is a long history of atrocious race relations between the two

The All God's Children Community Choir is a racially diverse group of
60 girls and boys ages 3-19 made up of families from both communities
as well as 8 other surrounding towns.  The choir is in its eighth year
and has performed for more than 70 occasions.  Choir involvement
includes parents, siblings, and grandparents and practices are rotated
within everyone's community demonstrating clearly that we all belong
in every place.

Families have moved beyond making music together to having candid
discussions of difficult issues, to working jointly on projects on
behalf of causes they believe in, to step up when there's a medical or
financial crisis, and to having fun together.  Racial issues certainly
haven't totally disappeared, but there is a level of comfort,
familiarity, and a feeling of extended family about this group that is
reported by all members; Black, White, Asian, and Latino/a.

you can read about the choir here:

I did not mean to make the claim in my last e-mail that it is only the
responsibility of minority individuals to flush out institutional
racism.  All parts of this process need to involve all members of this
community.  But there is information accessible to members of
oppressed communities that those of us in the majority do not have
access to because we do not have the same lived experiences.  The more
that you can help us with information the more that we can all work
together to identify and eradicate manifestations of institutional and
attitudinal racism.
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